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Blogger Relations at Adobe, Oracle and SAP (and a bit of IBM, Microsoft, Sun)

A couple of the Enterprise Irregulars asked me about the differences between approaches to bloggers at Adobe, Oracle and SAP, given that I have recently been to events run by all three vendors.

I am an industry analyst that blogs though, rather than ”just a blogger” (whatever that means), so I may not be the right person to ask. Of course I am also a non-traditional analyst, but you probably already knew that. but bear in mind that as an analyst I am invited to events that other bloggers might not be. Thus when Vinnie asks me to compare and contrast Oracle and SAP its difficult because I went to one conferences as an industry analyst and one as a blogger. 

As we grope towards a folksonomy its useful to distinguish between some different modes of use:

  • Companies that blog as a purely outbound marketing effort (no comments or trackbacks allowed, emails ignored).
  • Those that try and influence/reach out to bloggers.
  • Firms that use blog tracking in research, and, or “perception management” function – the corporate research function. 
  • Any effective developer relations program is going to make extensive use of blogs, from community-building to requirements gathering to expertise management.
  • Arguably any modern corporate function that has a  “-relations” suffix will use blogs: see investor relations.

So while there are a range of modes of use, what I am talking about here is the active tracking of blogs to identify and foster relations with influencers, traditional or not.  Why did I choose to focus on SAP, Adobe and Oracle? Because I have recently been to events hosted by all three… then, as is my wont, I added context as I went along, which is why I also add some IBM and Sun commentary.

SAP kicks ass, Others wait and see

Here is some quick and dirty rating (or at least it would be if I didn’t keep adding context as I write this…)

SAP is evidently the most blog savvy. It has a formal blogger relations program, with a budget and other dedicated resources. That says a lot. P&L in blogger relations – whatever next? Trust SAP to try drive fiscal discipline into the equation. Vendorprisey indeed.

Few if any other vendors can say the same thing – they are still at the “should we invite a couple of bloggers?” phase.

SAP is the most committed of any of major enterprisey software vendors (not just the three vendors I am talking to here) when it comes to directly addressing the next generation of influencers by program. Well done Michael Prosceno for taking the initiative by volunteering to run the program – he is quoted in this case study from techdirt that talks to SAP strategy for blogger relations (where on earth is your blog though, Mike?). Said case study could be very useful if you’re looking for some budget to run a blogger relations program and you work at an SAP competitor…  Of course Jeff Nolan was instrumental in getting SAP more blog savvy, but anyone that gives him sole credit for the company’s efforts is on crack. Nolan didn’t singlehandedly change SAP any more than Scoble did Microsoft. These guys are change agents, but they fit within a cultural context. Corporate troublemakers without very understanding bosses don’t last very long.)

I believe that Thomas Otter has also been an important SAP voice when it comes to blogging and tackling and new influencer directions (disclaimer: I am proud to call Thomas a friend. He is in many respects my “sponsor” at SAP, but then, perhaps this isn’t so much a disclaimer as a key point). Thomas is interesting because he has a clear view on the future of market research – when he works with his Fortune 500 customers he uses material from Influence 2.0  firms like Freeform Dynamics and RedMonk, because he doesn’t need to jump through admin hoops and and potential ombudsman threats to use said material. Thomas is also a hand-to-hand combat in customer shops guy, in a way that Jeff just isn’t. Finally Thomas is enterprisey through and through – you wouldn’t get him writing about how enterprise software companies should be more like Apple and force their customers to upgrade at a pace to suit the vendor. But you could probably get him going for a few pages on what SAP means by customisation.

Change doesn’t happen at SAP unless someone fluent in German, and living in Germany, helps it along. Shai Agassi may run large parts of SAP now, but the company’s center of gravity is still found in the asparagus fields of Walldorf.

I. Am. A. Blogger!

SAP invited me to TechEd in Amsterdam as a blogger not an analyst. My community is probably more important than the fact I run RedMonk. As an analyst I basically wasn’t on the firm’s radar screen… 

The company has the balls to invite bloggers into its press and analyst program, to ask tough questions of executives at a time when industry analysts and journalists increasingly ask only softball questions in public. Gartner analysts, for example, won’t ask questions in public, which at a stroke removes an important potentially critical voice at conferences (but then they like to do business in “behind closed doors” and that is their choice).  Bloggers can potentially reinvigorate a culture that has become too top down and basically too easy for vendors. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. People talk about the blogosphere as an echo chamber, but then they have probably never been to an enterprise software vendor analyst conference…  

SAP paid for my flight to Amsterdam, handled all the boring crap of booking it, and put me up in a really superb hotel, the Okura. Japanese hotels are one of the country’s latest excellent exports. 

SAP is showing the rest of the industry a thing or two about influencer programs in more than one dimension. It is also leapfrogging others by establishing blogs at the heart of its thriving developer network, SDN (the power of second mover advantage..) Its as if SAP is channeling Creating Passionate Users. Cool t-shirts, wake-driven development, SDN miles for contributors, etc. In the language of Kathy Sierra: it is helping its community to kick ass, and in the process it is kicking ass.

Adobe in Holding Pattern, but Shows Willing

Adobe is to some extent in wait and see mode when it comes to corporate communications and blogger relations. The Adobe Classic culture probably wants to see metrics and ROI figures before it starts going off the deep end, taking the leap of faith that underpins blogs as change agents. The Macromedia injection though is changing the firm from the inside, infecting it with the message-control-approaches-don’t-really-work-or-matter-the-market-is-the-conversation-and-we-need-to-collaborate-with-it mindset. 

Adobe didn’t invite me and Cote to Adobe MAX as bloggers, but as industry analysts. It didn’t invite that many industry analysts either, though there were plenty of financial analysts at the press conference, but I guess RedMonk made the cut because we focus on developer community issues. 

Adobe had not invited bloggers as bloggers. It doesn’t have a formal blogger relations program in place, but  just a few days before Adobe MAX, the company’s developer show, I asked the AR people if it was possible for Anne Zelenka to get a free pass. Anne is a really smart woman that understands enterprisey well (she is ex Oracle) but is also rock solid on social software and *2.0 issues. She ran the recent Office 2.0 PodJams. Anne recently put forward these helpful guidelines for AR/PR about dealing with the blogosphere.

Janet Arsenault and Tim Brook (a guy that use blogs effectively in his role, extra bonus points for ARena), egged on by godlike genius, skaterboi and cyclist Duane Nickull, were nice enough to say yes. As Duane said:

“I definitely want to meet someone brave enough to call themselves Anne 2.0″

.Anne paid her own way in terms of travel and expenses. I am hoping she will blog something about what she learned at the show. Indeed we’ll probably do a follow up to our last minute MAX roundup podcast with Anne on board.

Adobe is right in the middle of a major cultural upheaval, which should ensure that the company doesn’ t try and fork the web (you will have to track me and Cote’s blogs to hear more. What I can tell you is that chief software architect Kevin Lynch told us secret secret stuff without asking for a signed NDA. There is no way we would abuse that trust.)

Before Adobe acquired Macromedia it had no bloggers on staff, and had a somewhat traditional, outbound messaging approach. Macromedia on the other hand, being a hotbed for grassroots developer action (that means blogs, developers as a community use blogs second only to politics fans)  had at least a hundred bloggers. To his credit Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen told the Macromedia folks to keep at it. Adobe bloggers then jumped on board. The Adobe aggregated blog is a nightmare for productivity, its like subscribing to BoingBoing or something, often pointing out ludicrously cool stuff from design/photo/music land). Stuff like this:

B5FT1492

Many of Adobe’s customers – developers and creatives – are bloggers, so I expect to see a lot more blogger relations focus in the near term. 

Oracle

What can I say about Oracle? It knows how to run a good show, with great human diversity. It invited me to OpenWorld. Oracle paid my way to OpenWorld and put me up at the Marriot. “Just bloggers” though would have traveled under their own steam.Thanks Ludo. Thanks Bindi and Claire. 

Oracle has quite a few corporate bloggers on staff. But it hasn’t yet formalised blogging relations. It may choose not to. The firm has a somewhat controlling mindset in analyst in AR, led by Peggy O’Neill, an ex-Gartner analyst, which in some respects looks to limit rather than foster conversation. There used to be a great presentation to that effect here. Oracle corporate communications tends to message control rather than market conversation. Oracle traditionally sees AR as a function of sales- and hence restricts resource allocation to those that directly drive RFPs and deals. If Oracle maintains a top down control-oriented approach to corporate communications it is unlikely to start a blogger relations program any time soon. Bloggers relations and message control make poor bedfellows.

You can’t just roll up the Long Tail of Influence

Talking of bloggers, while they do of course influence product choices in enterprises and elsewhere this affect is quite hard to measure. We’re seeing some new aggregators that are rolling up community knowledge to help with enterprise advisory though. The aforementioned Irregulars, and TechDirt spring to mind.

After all, its hard to track lots of organisations or people that want to track you. Thank god for Technorati. Ludovic and James argue we (small analyst firms) all need to merge with each other to make it easier to work with us… But that is to misunderstand the nature of new influence. You can’t conveniently roll up the long tail to suit your management needs. I don’t want to work for an M&A-led Gartner clone and I don’t think the Two Neils or Dale do either. Sorry if that makes life harder, but we’re smarter than our competitors in some important areas. Process is no substitute for competence. Deal with us, or not, but don’t hope M&A, or digg, or something else aggregates all the best voices and makes us easy to deal with. Blogger relations, or new influencer relations, requires that you become more comfortable with a wider community, potentially more  distributed. Blogger is hard, and its not based on control. 

See Techdirt, the aforementioned Enterprise Irregulars, and the forthcoming Enterprise TechCrunch.

Snippets On Sun, IBM and Microsoft

Obviously Microsoft is very hip to blogging, but then again Microsoft has always been adept at reaching out to influencers of all different shapes and sizes.  Microsoft invites bloggers to events it runs, and has done for a long time, but is has always found experience and expertise in the places where it actually resides, rather than in the traditional canon. Microsoft is a learning company and deeply meritocratic (that should probably be technocratic) in that sense. Think of the company’s Most Valuable Professional (MVP) program, which somewhat bizarrely still has not been effectively emulated by other software vendors.

Sun uses blogs very effectively, and is currently rethinking its influencer programs accordingly. Well you would, wouldn’t you, when people are throwing stones seemingly for the sake of it. Jonathan’s blog is visionary. Who else had the cojones?

Meanwhile IBM has a lot of bloggers on staff, but doesn’t have a blogger relations function. It doesn’t invite bloggers to events qua bloggers. Frankly this needs to change. To begin with IBM’s blog strategy was largely based on developerworks, but now its a lot more diverse and business issue led.

Blogs become invisible?

This section began as part of the intro. But now its an outro.

Before proceeding to say a bit about how these tech companies are dealing with the new influencer patterns and people its worth stopping to think about what is going on.

Is a blog just a publishing tool? If so, would anyone ask how tech companies deal with people that use pens? I am not being facetious. Just trying to parse the issues.

I worked with a great guy called Tim Stammers, he of the lugubrious tones and dry wit, back in the day, when I was a journalist – he used to talk about biro pen stories; that is, tech stories that might as well have been hey look Barclays Is Now Using Pens Instead of Pencils. 

Blogs are becoming somewhat pervasive, and in that sense they become invisible, as useful technology should. On the other hand we’re currently seeing a lot of changes in the nature of the corporation, and patterns of influence around customer, employee and partner engagement. Blogs are a strong manifestation of this trend. The deck is being shuffled. The Corporation is being mashed up. Its the end of business as usual.

How should corporate communications respond? In a word- flexibly.

 

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16 Responses

  1. Really interesting post, James – thanks.
    And you’re absolutely right – us Neils are absolutely not interested in being rolled up into a larger M&A driven vehicle. Unless becoming small becomes, at some point, a block to our doing business. At the moment, though, it seems that our size is having no negative impact on our success at all.

  2. Hey James, excellent post! Started on a comment yesterday but it got so long that I had to make a proper post which I trackbacked here of course… but alas, that did not work, not a trace here. Is you trackback on? Or is it my side?
    Saw Jeff did one referring here, would not surprise me if he have tried some trackbacking too.

  3. we have had some trackback problems. hopefully the move to wordpress will solve them

  4. A good post James – very englighting.

    I think the early adopters in the verical of tech are getting onto the cluetrain. However, legacy enterprise model is too ‘old school boy’ mentality. The C&C centeric organizations are facing the waves of disruption in the market space and don’t know how to give up control and to whom.

    This is where the Eldeman’s/ Steve R’s like entities, really need to be turning the knob within the F1000.

    However, most companies look for ROI’s , capital cost and talent requirements as a buisness model before “blessing” the blog model…and as such, there is no business model. So this leaves the visionary’s fighting for a cause which has no end, unitl the jaded gardens of the corporate world are broken down !!

  5. we did invite analysts as bloggers to RSDC, Stephen was one.

  6. Great post but I think you buried the lead: “You can’t just roll up the Long Tail of Influence.” That is the thought that stands out for me in this post. Blogging is the long tail incarnation of journalism/market research.

    Will share with all my PR pals…

  7. Nice comparative intel. I’m surprised that some enterprises are treating analysts as bloggers, rather than as analysts who blog. To me, RedMonk is an analyst company, regardless of how young, small or prone to blogging the company may be. Your chosen role in the ecosystem is the business of research, advisory and influence. Blogs and other communications channels are tools of your trade. You would still be an analyst company if you decided to perform as a rock band and sing your opinions.(Pause here for RedMonk mix.)

    I trust no one is deciding to treat their customers as bloggers, rather than as customers who blog.

  8. James, about your last sentence….
    You’re a new breed, OK. But you still do business as usual, don’t you fundamentally?

    We’ve been hoping for Analyst.Mashups for a long time, little happened. Are egos not soluble in Web 2.0?

  9. aronaut – what is analysts.mashups?

    what are you asking me?

    Frankly there is a lot of collaboration going on in the analyst space-something i have to post on. but we need to make a buck and so on. whats your point about business as usual.

    anyone can talk to us in real time on IRC. anyone. how is that business as usual? We’re way more accessible than many other firms. We were the first to open source content under a creative commons license, so it could be mashed up.

    what do you want from us? I think we’re shaking things up

  10. Collaboration between analysts is indeed (yet another) area where Europe leads.

    You’re setting many new ways and deserve credit for it, but your business model is quite conventional -wouldn’t you agree?

    I was referring to mashups because of your last link. We’ve written on Valley View Ventures and others, that maybe a new business model?

  11. Great post, its nice to see what some of the tech industry leaders (or supposed leaders) are doing in response as far as blogs and bloggers.

    I agree whole heartldly that blogs and message control make poor bedfellows. Actually any kind of channel for user generated content must have a significant amount of flexibility and acceptable content in order to be sucessful. With too much rigidity and too many rules the game of immediate input/feedback ceases to be entertaining. To much censorship and the masses will look for the next, very available alternative outlet.

  12. Save the date – Jan 22 – Lotusphere Q&A session for bloggers

    We at IBM Lotus PR are pleased to invite you participate in an exclusive Q&A session taking place after the main press and analyst conference at Lotusphere, IBM’s yearly conference on collaboration software. This session will give you an opportuinty to participate in a smaller circle of bloggers who will have direct access to IBM Lotus executives.

    The session will be conducted on site as well as by teleconference. Please confirm if you can participate either onsite or by phone and I will send you additional information.

    What: Lotusphere Q&A for bloggers
    When: Monday, January 22
    Where: Americas Seminar Room, Disneyworld Resort, Orlando, Fla or via teleconference

  13. It is curious that you leave out BEA as you sometimes speak about them. What’s up with that?

  14. Well Ian – its because as far as i know BEA doesn’t *do* any blogger relations. it has not optimised its use of blogs, and i don’t that it reads them at the corporate level. others have reached out to bloggers as a new influencer channel, but not BEA. my relationship with them is an industry analyst. period.

    jgovernorMarch 16, 2007 @ 11:16 amReply
  15. Did you see that Steve Mann of SAP North America recorded a recent podcast interview all about their blogging activity?

    It is available at ww.b2bmarketingpodcast.com

    Sun Microsystem’s Ingrid Van Den Hoogen also discusses their blogging activity.

    Mike DukeMarch 29, 2007 @ 11:15 amReply
  16. Your “analysis” of Oracle’s blogging approach is dead-wrong – you didn’t do your homework. I happen to know because I was one of the chief catalysts behind blogs.oracle.com.

    Aside from an employee blogging policy that is similar to Sun’s & IBM’s, there is no “control-oriented approach” to blogging at Oracle. (I am referring to non-executives of course, as executives have special responsibilities.) If you had done even a cursory review of the content involved, you would have recognized this.



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